The Word Became Flesh, 1-18
John's Gospel begins without a title of any kind and thus differs from Revelation, which carries a distinct title from John's own hand, and from the Gospels of Matthew and of Mark, both of which begin with titles. Luke has an introduction and an address and is peculiar in this respect. While John's prolog may be called an introduction, it is one of an entirely different type. This prolog sums up the contents of the entire Gospel. It does this by brief, succinct historical statements. Each of these is wonderfully simple and clear and yet so weighty and profound that the human mind is unable to fathom them. Amid all that has been written by the instruments of Inspiration this prolog stands out as the one paragraph that is most profound, most lofty, and incomparable in every way.
Later hands have added a caption to John's Gospel; it is like those that have been placed at the head of the other Gospels and the other New Testament writings. The oldest is simply: "According to John"; then: "Gospel according to John" and other modifications of this simple title. This was done when the Gospels and the other writings were collected and when the New Testament canon was being formed. The preposition κατά, "according to," designates the Apostle John as the writer of this Gospel. We have no linguistic or other evidence that the preposition is meant in any other sense. The contention that κατά here means: "according to the type of preaching" done by John is put forward in order to make room for the unknown author of this Gospel who is thought to have used material derived from John and who wrote at a later date. If this contention holds good, the title for Mark's Gospel would have to be: "The Gospel according to Peter," and that of Luke: "The Gospel according to Paul," for both Mark and Luke are dependent on these apostles.
John's is the paragon among the Gospels, "the one, tender, real crown-Gospel of them all" (Luther), and the prolog is the central jewel set in pure gold. The very first words show that John writes for Christian believers, for every sentence presupposes conversance with the faith. John writes as though he stands in the midst of the congregation, all eyes and ears being fixed upon him to hear the blessed Gospel words from his lips. The prolog has been divided in various ways, as one or the other of its statements has been stressed. The most natural division seems to be: 1) The eternal Word, the Creator of all, is the light and life shining into the sinful world, v. 1-5, 2) The Word came into the sinful world, awakening faith and arousing unbelief, v. 6-12, 3) The Word became flesh in the world and brought us grace and truth from the Father, v. 13-18. These three parts, however, are not coordinate blocks, laid in a row one beside the other; they are built up like a pyramid, the one rising above the other. It is all a most wonderful story, this about the Word: He shines; he comes; he appears incarnate. It is a mistake to read even the prolog, not to speak of the entire Gospel, as if John intends to show us only the eternal godhead of the Son. John attests the humanity of the Son as fully and as completely as the divinity and godhead. The miracle of the ages is that the Word became flesh and dwelt among men. Some of the most intimate human touches regarding the Savior are recorded for us by John, and yet the person to whom these human features belong is God's own Son.
1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This One was in the beginning with God. Even the first readers of John's Gospel must have noted the resemblance between the first phrase ἐν ἀρχῇ, "in the beginning," and that with which Moses begins Genesis. This parallel with Moses was, no doubt, intentional on John's part. The phrase points to the instant when time first began and the first creative act of God occurred. But instead of coming down from that first instant into the course of time, John faces in the opposite direction and gazes back into the eternity before time was. We may compare John 17:5; 8:58, and possibly Rev. 3:14, but scarcely ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς in Prov. 8:23, for in this passage "from the beginning" refers to Wisdom, a personification, of which v. 25 reports: "I was brought forth," something that is altogether excluded as regards the divine person of the Logos.
In the Greek many phrases lack the article, which is not considered necessary, R. 791; so John writes ἐν ἀρχῇ. But in John's first sentence the emphasis is on this phrase "in the, beginning" and not on the subject "the Word." This means that John is not answering the question, "Who was in the beginning?" to which the answer would naturally be, "God"; but the question, "Since when was the Logos?" the answer to which is, "Since all eternity." This is why John has the verb ἦν, "was," the durative imperfect, which reaches back indefinitely beyond the instant of the beginning. What R. 833 says about a number of doubtful imperfects, some of which, though they are imperfect in form are yet used as aorists in sense, can hardly be applied in this case. We, of course, must say that the idea of eternity excludes all notions of tense, present, past, and future; for eternity is not time, even vast time, in any sense but the absolute opposite of time—timelessness. Thus, strictly speaking, there is nothing prior to "the beginning," and no duration or durative tense in eternity. In other words, human language has no forms of expression that fit the conditions of the eternal world. Our minds are chained to the concepts of time. Of necessity, then, when anything in eternity is presented to us, it must be by such imperfect means as our minds and our language afford. That is why the durative idea in the imperfect tense ἧν is superior to the punctiliar aoristic idea: In the beginning the Logos "was," ein ruhendes und waehrendes Sein (Zahn)—"was" in eternal existence. All else had a beginning, "became," ἐγένετο, was created; not the Logos. This—may we call it—timeless ἦν in John's first sentence utterly refutes the doctrine of Arius, which he summed up in the formula: ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, "there was (a time) when he (the Son) was not." The eternity of the Logos is co-equal with that of the Father.
Without a modifier, none being necessary for John's readers and hearers, he writes ὁ λόγος, "the Word." This is "the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father," v. 18. "The Logos" is a title for Christ that is peculiar to John and is used by him alone. In general this title resembles many others, some of them being used also by Christ himself, such as Light, Life, Way, Truth, etc. To imagine that the Logos-title involves a peculiar, profound, and speculative Logos-doctrine on the part of John is to start on that road which in ancient times led to Gnosticism and in modern times to strange views of the doctrine concerning Christ. We must shake off, first of all, the old idea that the title "Logos" is in a class apart from the other titles which the Scriptures bestow upon Christ, which are of a special profundity, and that we must attempt to penetrate into these mysterious depths. This already will release us from the hypothesis that John borrowed this title from extraneous sources, either with it to grace his own doctrine concerning Christ or to correct the misuse of this title among the churches of his day. Not one particle of evidence exists to the effect that in John's day the Logos-title was used for Christ in the Christian churches in any false way whatever. And not one particle of evidence exists to the effect that John employed this title in order to make corrections in its use in the church. The heretical perversions of the title appear after the publication of John's Gospel.
Philo's and the Jewish-Alexandrian doctrine of a logos near the time of Christ has nothing to do with the Logos of John. Philo's logos is in no sense a person but the impersonal reason or "idea" of God, a sort of link between the transcendent God and the world, like a mental model which an artist forms in his thought and then proceeds to work out in some kind of material. This logos, formed in God's mind, is wholly subordinate to him, and though it is personified at times when speaking of it, it is never a person as is the Son of God and could not possibly become flesh and be born a man. Whether John knew of this philosophy it is impossible for us to say; he himself betrays no such knowledge.
As far as legitimate evidence goes, it is John who originated this title for Christ and who made it current and well understood in the church of his day. The observation is also correct that what this title expressed in one weighty word was known in the church from the very start. John's Logos is he that is called "Faithful and True" in Rev. 19:11; see v. 13: "and his name is called The Word of God." He is identical with the "Amen, the faithful and true witness," in Rev. 3:14; and the absolute "Yea," without a single Contradictory "nay" in the promises of God in II Cor. 1:19, 20, to whom the church answers with "Amen." This Logos is the revealed "mystery" of God, of which Paul writes Col. 1:27; 2:2; I Tim. 3:16; which he designates explicitly as "Christ." These designations go back to the Savior's own words in Matt. 11:27; 16:17. Here already we may define the Logos-title: the Logos is the final and absolute revelation of God, embodied in God's own Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the Logos because in him all the purposes, plans, and promises of God are brought to a final focus and an absolute realization.
But the thesis cannot be maintained that the Logos-title with its origin and meaning is restricted to the New Testament alone, in particular to the Son incarnate, and belongs to him only as he became flesh. When John writes that the Logos became flesh, he evidently means that he was the Logos long before he became flesh. How long before we have already seen—before the beginning of time, in all eternity. The denial of the Son's activity as the Logos during the Old Testament era must, therefore, be denied. When John calls the Son the Logos in eternity, it is in vain to urge that v. 17 knows only about Moses for the Old Testament and Christ as the Logos only for the New. Creation takes place through the Logos, v. 3; and this eternal Logos is the life and light of men, v. 4, without the least restriction as to time (New as opposed to Old Testament time). The argument that this Logos or Word "is spoken" and does not itself "speak" is specious. This would require that the Son should be called ὁ λεγόμενος instead of ὁ λόγος. The Logos is, indeed, spoken, but he also speaks. As being sent, given, brought to us we may stress the passive idea; as coming, as revealing himself, as filling us with light and life, the active idea is just as true and just as strong.
This opens up the wealth of the Old Testament references to the Logos. "And God said, Let there be light," Gen. 1:4. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," Gen. 1:26. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God," Heb. 11:3. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.... For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast," Ps. 33:6 and 9. "He sent his word," Ps. 107:20; 147:15. These are not mere sounds that Jehovah uttered as when a man utters a command, and we hear the sound of his words. In these words and commands the Son stands revealed in his omnipotent and creative power, even as John says in v. 3: "All things were made by him." This active, omnipotent revelation "in the beginning" reveals him as the Logos from all eternity, one with the Father and the Spirit and yet another, namely the Son.
He is the Angel, of the Lord, who meets us throughout the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi, even "the Angel of the Presence," Isa. 63:9. He is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he was before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father, that in him should all fulness dwell," Col. 1:15-19. This is the revelation of the Logos in grace. The idea that by the Logos is meant only the gospel, or the gospel whose content is Christ, falls short of the truth. "Logos" is a personal name, the name of him "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting," Micah 5:2. And so we define once more, in the words of Besser, "The Word is the living God as he reveals himself, Isa. 8:25; Heb. 1:1, 2." Using a weak human analogy, we may say: as the spoken word of a man is the reflection of his inmost soul, so the Son is "the brightness of his (the Father's) glory, and the express image of his person," Heb. 1:3. Only of Jesus as the Logos is the word true, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," John 16:9; and that other word, "I and my Father are one," John 10:30.
And the Word was with God, πρὸς τὸν θεόν. Here we note the first Hebrew trait in John's Greek, a simple coordination with καί, "and," followed in a moment by a second. The three coordinate statements in v. 1 stand side by side, and each of the three repeats the mighty subject, "the Word." Three times, too, John writes the identical verb ἦν its sense being as constant as that of the subject: the Logos "was" in all eternity, "was" in an unchanging, timeless existence. In the first statement the phrase "in the beginning" is placed forward for emphasis; in the second statement the phrase "with God" is placed at the end for emphasis.
In the Greek Θεός may or may not have the article, for the word is much like a proper noun, and in the Greek this may be articulated, a usage which the English does not have. Cases in which the presence or the absence of the article bears a significance we shall note as we proceed. The preposition πρός, as distinct from ἐν, παρά, and σύν, is of the greatest importance. R. 623 attempts to render its literal force by translating: "face to face with God." He adds 625 that πρός is employed "for living relationship, intimate converse," which well describes its use in this case. The idea is that of presence and communion with a strong note of reciprocity. The Logos, then, is not an attribute inhering in God, or a power emanating from him, but a person in the presence of God and turned in loving, inseparable communion toward God, and God turned equally toward him. He was another and yet not other than God. This preposition πρός sheds light on Gen. 1:26, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."
Now comes the third statement: And the Word was God. In English we place the predicate last, while in the Greek it is placed first in order to receive the fullest emphasis. Here Θεός must omit the article thus making sure that we read it as the predicate and not as the subject, R. 791. "The Word was with God.' This sounds, speaking according to our reason, as though the Word was something different from God. So he turns about, closes the circle, and says, 'And God was the Word.'" Luther. God is the Word, God himself, fully, completely, without diminution, in very essence. What the first statement necessarily involves when it declares that already in the beginning the Word was; what the second statement clearly involves when it declares the eternal reciprocal relation between the Word and God—that is declared with simple directness in the third statement when the Word is pronounced God with no modifier making a subtraction or limitation. And now all is clear; we now see how this Word who is God "was in the beginning," and how this Word who is God was in eternal reciprocal relation with God. This clarity is made perfect when the three ἦν are seen to be eternal, shutting out absolutely a past that in any way is limited. The Logos is one of the three divine persons of the eternal Godhead.
2) And now the three foregoing sentences are joined into one: This One was in the beginning with God. Just as we read "the Word," "the Word," "the Word," three times, like the peals of a heavenly bell, like a golden chord on an organ not of earth sounding again and again, so the three rays of heavenly light in the three separate sentences fuse into one—a sun of such brightness that human eyes cannot take in all its effulgence. "It is as if John, i. e., the Spirit of God who reveals all this to him, meant to bar from the beginning all the attempts at denial which in the course of dogmatical and historical development would arise; as though he meant to say: I solemnly repeat, The eternal Godhead of Christ is the foundation of the church, of faith, of true Christology!" G. Mayer.
The Greek has the handy demonstrative οὖτος with which it sums up emphatically all that has just been said concerning a subject. In English we must use a very emphatic "he" or some equivalent like "this One," "the Person," or "the same" (our versions), although these equivalents are not as smooth and as idiomatic as οὗτος is in the Greek. Verse 2 does not intend to add a new feature regarding the Logos; it intends, by repeating the two phrases from the first two sentences, once more with the significant ἦν, to unite into a single unified thought all that the three preceding sentences have placed before us in coordination. So John writes "this One," re-emphasizing the third sentence, that the Word was God; then "was in the beginning," re-emphasizing the first sentence, that the Word was in the beginning; finally "with God," re-emphasizing the second sentence, that the Word was in reciprocal relation with God. Here one of the great characteristics of all inspired writing should not escape us; realities that transcend all human understanding are uttered in words of utmost simplicity yet with flawless perfection. The human mind cannot suggest an improvement either in the terms used or in the combination of the terms that is made. Since John's first words recall Genesis 1, we point to Moses, the author of that first chapter, as another incomparable example of inspired writing—the same simplicity for expressing transcendent thought, the same perfection in every term and every grammatical combination of terms. Let us study Inspiration from this angle, i. e., from what it has actually produced throughout the Bible. Such study will both increase our faith in Inspiration and give us a better conception of the Spirit's suggestio rerum et verborum.
3) The first four sentences belong together, being connected, as they are, by two καί and the resumptive οὖτος. They present to us the person of the Logos, eternal and very God. Without a connective v. 3 proceeds with the first work of the Logos, the creation of all things. All things were made through him; and without him was not made a single thing that is made. The negative second half of this statement re-enforces and emphasizes the positive first half. While John advances from the person to the work, this work substantiates what is said about the person; for the Logos who created all things must most certainly be God in essence and in being.
"All things," πάντα without the article, an immense word in this connection, all things in the absolute sense, the universe with all that it contains. This is more than τὰ πάντα with the article, which would mean all the things that exist at present, while πάντα covers all things present, past, and future. While the preposition διά denotes the medium, Rom. 11:36 and Heb. 2:10 show that the agent himself may be viewed as the medium; hence "through him," i. e., the Logos, must not be read as though the Logos was a mere tool or instrument. The act of creation, like all the opera ad extra, is ascribed to the three persons of the Godhead and thus to the Son as well as to the Father; compare the plural pronouns in Gen. 1:26.
The verb ἐγένετο, both in meaning and in tense, is masterly. The translation of our versions is an accommodation, for the verb means "came into existence," i. e., "became" in this sense. The existence of all things is due to the Logos, not, indeed, apart from the other persons of the Godhead but in conjunction with them, as is indicated throughout the creative speaking in Gen. 1. "All things came into being" since the beginning, the Logos through whom they were called into being existed before the beginning, from eternity. The verb "became" is written from the point of view of the things that entered existence, while in Genesis the verb "created" is written from the viewpoint of God, the Creator. John repeats ἐγένετο in the negative part of his statement and adds the perfect tense γέγονεν in the attached relative clause. These repetitions emphasize the native meaning of this verb. As creatures of the Logos "all things became."
The punctiliar tense, a historical aorist, is in marked contrast to the durative imperfect of the four preceding ἦν. This aorist goes back to the creative acts of Gen. 1. These acts are fundamental; for all creatures that came into existence in the later course of time have their origin in the creative acts of that wonderful week recorded in Genesis. We may thus pass down through the centuries, even to the last day of time, and always it will be true: ὁ κόσμος δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, "the world was made through him," v. 10, where this significant verb is repeated for the fourth time.
John's positive statement is absolute. This the negative counterpart makes certain: and without him was not a single thing made that is made. Whereas the plural πάντα covers the complete multitude or mass, the strong singular οὐδὲ ἕν points to every individual in that mass and omits none. "Not one thing" is negative; hence also the phrase with the verb is negative, "became without him" or apart from him and his creative power. Apart from the Logos is nihil negativum et privativum. Yet in both the positive and the negative statements concerning the existence of all things and of every single thing the implication stands out that the Logos himself is an absolute exception. He never "became" or "came into existence." No medium (διά) is in any sense connected with his being. The Son is from all eternity "the uncreated Word."
The relative clause ὃ γέγονεν is without question to be construed with ἕν and cannot be drawn into the next sentence. We need not present all the details involved in this statement since the question must be considered closed. The margin of the R. V., which still offers the other reading, is incorrect and confusing. No man has ever been able to understand the sense of the statement, "That which hath been made was life in him." Linguistically the perfect tense with its present force, γέγονεν, clashes quite violently with the following imperfect tense ἦν, so violently that the ancient texts were altered, changing οὐδὲ ἕν into οὐδὲέν, and ζωὴ ἧν into ζωή ἐστιν. But even these textual alterations fail to give satisfaction apart from the grave question of accepting them as the true reading of the text. So we read, "And without him not a single thing that exists came into existence." The perfect tense γέγονεν, of course, has a present implication and may be translated, "that exists" or "that is made." But the perfect tense has this force only as including the present result of a past act. The perfect always reaches from the past into the present. The single thing of which John speaks came into existence in the past and only thus is in existence now. What John thus says is that every single thing that now exists traces its existence back to the past moment when it first entered existence. Thus the aorist ἐγένετο is true regarding all things in the universe now or at any time. Every one of them derives its existence from the Logos. Since γέγονεν as a perfect tense includes past origin, we should not press its present force so as to separate the past creative acts of the Logos from the present existence of the creature world.
4) From the creative work of the Logos John turns to his soteriological work. He begins without a connective and uses four brief sentences which are joined in the simplest fashion by means of three καί. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness overcame it not. The first two statements belong together, because the two verbs, ἦν, are identical. The third clause continues not with an imperfect but with a present tense; and the fourth ends with an aorist.
John uses the term ζωή fifty-four times. It is one of the key words of his Gospel. Used here in the first statement without the article, the quality of the word is stressed: in the Logos was "life," life in the fullest, highest sense, the eternal, blessed life of God. The emphasis is on the phrase which heads the statement, "in him" was life. This implies a contrast with all the living beings who came into existence by the creative act of the Logos. They all received life—it came to them as a gift from a higher source. They all also are capable of death, and while some escaped death (the good angels), all the rest came under death's power. The very attribute of the Logos is life, the life that corresponds with his being, forever inherent in his very essence, absolutely incapable of any hurt, subtraction, or deteriorating change. While this first statement of John's refers to the Logos only and as such reaches no farther, it is yet not to be considered abstractly, as a piece of interesting information concerning only this great being, the Logos. It is preliminary to the statements which follow and which pertain most directly to us. In fact, the very terms "Logos" and "life" look toward us and have a bearing upon us, even as all the statements in v. 4 and 5, the first as well as the rest, are made for our sakes and for ours alone.
Because John's statement that life was in the Logos follows his statement regarding the creature world, ζωή is often taken to mean "life" in the sense of the animation of all living creatures. This is unwarranted. In v. 4, 5 John predicates nothing concerning the creatures called into being by the Logos. Many of these have no life of any kind, they are lifeless and inorganic and merely exist without living. Those that are animated received their animation when they were called into existence. Moreover, ζωή is never used with reference to mere creature life; its character is always heavenly and spiritual never physical. Enough wonderful things appear in John's Gospel without our adding thereto, and we must remember that John wrote not for speculative philosophers and lofty theological thinkers but for the church at large.
Much thought has been spent on the verb ἦν, "was," especially on the imperfect tense. John writes, "In him was life," and not, as we might expect, "In him is life," i. e., ever and always, timelessly, from eternity to eternity. A strong effort is made to regard ἧν as a historical tense, referring to a fixed period in the past. One view is that John here refers to the brief period of innocence in Paradise. A division is made between v. 4 and v. 5, placing the fall of man between them. But the mere tense of ἦν is too slender a foundation on which to base such an interpretation.
Another view has "was" refer historically to the time of Christ here on earth. It is pointed out that "was" follows the two historical aorists "became" in v. 3 and even the perfect γέγονεν with its present implication. Likewise, that "was" in the first sentence in v. 4 gets its meaning from "was" in the second sentence of this verse. The latter is then regarded as pertaining to Christ's appearance here on earth. In substantiation John 9:5 is quoted, "When I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Likewise 12:46; 12:35, 36; 3:19. Of course, we are told, the light and the life did not depart with Christ's visible presence; now it is the Paraclete through whom they come to us. In spite of this argument ἦν in v. 4 is not a true historical tense. The passages adduced come within the two ἦν in v. 4, but no one is able to prove that they cover and exhaust the extent of time of these ἦν. Likewise it is impossible to prove that these two imperfects must denote the time subsequent to the two ἐγένετο in v. 3, and it is plain that these ἦν cannot be subsequent to the perfect γέγονεν.
The favorite view is that the two ἦν refer back to the entire Old Testament period. This is much nearer to the truth. Usually, however, this view is broadened to take in also all the natural knowledge of God left to the pagan world and all the moral principles that still survive among heathen nations. "There has been much foolish speculation as to how the Word of God in its divinity could be a light, which naturally shines and has always given light to the minds of men even among the heathen. Therefore the light of reason has been emphasized and based upon this passage of Scripture. These are all human, Platonic, and philosophical thoughts, which lead us away from Christ into ourselves; but the evangelist wishes to lead us away from ourselves into Christ.... He would not have us diffuse our thoughts among the creatures which he has created, so as to pursue him, search for him, and speculate about him as the Platonic philosophers do; but he wishes to lead us away from those vague and high-flown thoughts and bring us together in Christ... Therefore the light must mean the true light of grace in Christ and not the natural light, which also sinners, Jews, heathen, and devils have, who are the greatest enemies of the light.... I am well aware that all the light of reason is ignited by the divine light; and as I have said of the natural life, that it has its origin in, and is part of, the true life, when it has come to the right knowledge, so also the light of reason has its origin in, and is part of, the true light, when it recognizes and honors him by whom it has been ignited." Luther, Lenker's translation, Postil, 190, etc. He then proceeds to show how the light of reason, when it remains separate from Christ, becomes extinguished and dies out, how it misleads into error and the most dangerous falsehood, how, when the light of grace comes, a battle ensues, and, when the light of grace conquers, it also "enlightens the light of nature in man" and makes this what it should be. "We must follow the streams which lead to the source and not away from it."
Once it is clearly perceived that the very name "Logos," borne by the Son before the world began, is pointless save as it declares him to be God's revelation to us who need this eternal Logos, the difficulties about the tense of the two ἦν will disappear. We shall, of course, not identify these two with the three ἦν in v. 1, 2, for these three extend back only from "the beginning" into infinite eternity, while the two ἦν in v. 4 extend back from Christ's incarnation across the entire Old Testament into eternity. For John's Christian readers it was not strange that all the works of grace should have their inception in eternity and there disappear in mystery from our finite eyes. Just because ἦν goes back indefinitely, it is the proper tense. An aorist would sound historical and thus be unfit. Just as the eternal Word was in the beginning, so also in the beginning and in addition since the incarnation this Word was life, and this life was the light of men. John writes was and not the timeless is because he intends to make an incision at the time of the incarnation. This event and the history that follows he records in due order. It would be a misstatement to say that the Logos became or was made life either in time or before time. Looking backward, no limit can be set, looking forward, John himself sets the limit at the close of the Old Testament or at the incarnation.
As life and light are inseparably joined together in nature, so also they are joined in the domain of the spirit and divine grace. Where divine, true life is, there divine, true light is, and where light, there also life. "In Christ is the life-light, outside is the night of death." Besser. Yet "life" is placed first, and "light" second. The evangelist cannot say that in the Logos was light, and the light was the life of men. Light is that which shines out and manifests itself; it emanates from life which is fundamental and in its essence a deep, mysterious, hidden power. Divine truth is light as it shines out from him who is the Truth; but this truth is the manifestation of the life that underlies it even as Jesus also calls himself the Life.
Moreover, light is a figurative term. It recalls the sun which lights up the physical universe. So the life that is in the Logos is intended to light up the world and the souls of men. The term "light" always connotes its opposite darkness, just as "life" always suggets its opposite death. Both "life" and "light," just like "Logos," are human terms. They apply to us as we are in this world where death and darkness prevail, and where we need the revelation of the Word. In heaven these terms would either not apply at all or would apply in a meaning so wonderful that our minds now could not comprehend the concepts. "Light" equals truth, and this signifies reality, namely all the reality of God's will, purpose, and plans as they center in his love or grace and are incorporated in the Logos, who is Jesus Christ, our Lord. This divine and blessed reality is composed of many facts, each of which, in turn, constitutes a reality; and when these realities are properly voiced in human language, we call them doctrines. Our soul's highest interests are thus tied up with the doctrines of Christ, the Word. Every unreality (lie), though it is trigged up in the most captivating language, constitutes a false doctrine and by its very nature works death and destruction for the soul.
In all cases where a genitive is added to designate the domain that is to be lighted, as "the light of men" or "the light of the world," the term "light" denotes not the radiance that spreads abroad, but the luminary itself from which the radiance emanates. So the sun in the heavens is the "light" of the physical world. Without this sun we should perish in physical darkness. Without the Logos and his saving life we should likewise perish in spiritual darkness. The purpose and the task of the light is to enlighten, to bestow upon men the knowledge of the truth. "For in thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light," Ps. 36:9. This knowledge is never merely intellectual, it affects the entire being and turns all who are enlightened into children of light who are born anew of the light.
5) "And the light shines in the darkness," φαίνει, a durative present tense. Here is Luther's comment: "Christ has always been the Life and the Light, even before his birth, from the beginning, and will ever remain so to the end. He shines at all times, in all creatures, in the Holy Scriptures, through his saints, prophets, and ministers, in his word and works; and he has never ceased to shine. But in whatever place he has shone, there was great darkness, and the darkness apprehended him not." The present tense of the verb "shines" has led to the interpretation that here John speaks of the New Testament presence of the Logos. But why impose such a restriction when the general subject is still the eternal Logos, and when "the darkness" in which the light shines is not restricted to the New Testament era? It is the very nature of the light to shine, to send out its rays, to illuminate, to transfer itself? Though this is true, John is not making a remark on the abstract nature of light in general. "The light" is the one specific light mentioned in v. 4, the Logos with his life—it is he that goes on shining in the darkness.
So also the phrase "in the darkness" with its Greek article is specific, not darkness in general but in this world of ours made dark through sin and death. Between the later word σκοτία and the older σκότος no difference exists. The abstract term "darkness," which expresses a quality, is here substituted for the concrete expression "dark world" and sums up in a single word and from one angle all the hostile forces that exist in the fallen world. "Darkness," while it is a negative term like all the words for sin and death, is, nevertheless, never used in a merely negative way as denoting only the absence of light. If this darkness were no more, it would be like the physical absence of light which at once vanishes when light is supplied, i. e., when a luminary appears. The darkness of the world is a hostile power full of resistance to the true light of the Logos. The shining of the light in the darkness is, therefore, always an invasion of the territory held by the darkness, a challenge of the power of darkness, a battle to destroy this power, a victory robbing the darkness of its prey. It is thus that the light shines in the darkness. Far from the darkness invading the light or putting it out, the opposite takes place. Moreover, the light or luminary is never in the least affected by the darkness—this luminary is the eternal, unconquerable life of the eternal Word and as such it shines and shines in triumphant power. We see its shining in the first promise of the seed of the woman in Eden; we see its broadening, intensified radiance throughout Old Testament times; we see some of its scattered rays striking even into the dark Gentile world with which Israel came into contact; and then we see the wonderful shining like the sun in its zenith when the gospel was carried to the ends of the earth; even so it is shining now. What a wonderful fact, "And the light shines in the darkness!"
We must translate the next sentence according to the margin of the R. V., "And the darkness overcame it not." The verb καταλαμβάνειν has two meanings, "to apprehend something" in order to possess and to retain it, as in Phil. 3:12; I Cor. 9:24; Rom. 9:30; and "to pounce upon something" in order to bring it into one's power so that it shall not escape or assert itself. The analogy of Scripture is in favor of the latter meaning. This analogy embraces all the passages in which a hostile force like σκοτία. is active, as for instance a demon in the case of possession in Mark 9:18; the last day as a thief in the night in I Thess. 5:4; the darkness in John 12:35; many LXX passages, like the sinner's iniquities in Ps. 40:12; the evil in Gen. 19:19; and thus constantly in the Scriptures and in other writings. We should also note that "darkness" cannot possibly "apprehend," hold and embrace "the light," it can only resist and war against it. Finally, the force of the aorist tense of the verb would clash with the durative shining of the light; this aorist would have to be a durative present: the light shines, and the darkness does not apprehend, does not appropriate it. The aorist, however, is in place when we translate, "And the darkness did not overcome the light." It made strong attempts to do so, as Jesus prophesied in John 15:18 and 16:4, as the death of Jesus attests, and the Acts report at length; but always its efforts were without success, for the light still shines on.
The A. V. translates "comprehended," which would be only an intellectual act, one that is impossible for "the darkness." The R. V. offers "apprehended," which is deeper and yet involves the same difficulty as to meaning and as to tense.
6) Verse 6 introduces the second section of the prolog which extends to v. 12. The first starts with eternity and sketches the activity of the Logos before his coming into the world. The second starts with the Baptist and sketches the Logos as having come into the world and into his own. V. 6-12 thus includes the incarnation, yet John withholds mention of it in so many words because he intends to reserve this miracle of miracles for the final section of the prolog, the climax of this mighty introduction to the body of his Gospel.
There came a man, commissioned from God, whose name was John —a few touches, and the picture of this man is complete. While the evangelist sketches the Baptist with some detail in v. 6-8, this is not done with a view to introducing to the readers a person unknown and new to them. John writes about the Baptist much as he does about the Logos. The readers know both; what John does is to lift out for each the vital and important features to which John wants the readers to give special heed. John thus presents no history of the Baptist and does not even point out his distinctive work of baptizing, either by describing this activity or by calling him the Baptist.
The very first words: ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, "there was (or came) a man," are in marked contrast to ἦν ὁ λόγος, "was the Word," in v. 1. The aorist is plainly historical: he came, trat auf, with his activity and work just like any other man. All was different in the case of the Logos. And this was "a man," a human being like other men, not an angel from the other world. Yet he differed from the mass of otherwise notable men in that he was "sent from God." The perfect participle ἀπεσταλμένος includes more than the past act of commissioning him for his special task, it covers also his standing during the entire course of that work. He was God's message bearer or ambassador. However lowly his person, his office is of the highest, with which also his name accords, "John," "God's favor." The agent with a passive verb form may be expressed, as here, with παρά. The introduction of John's name is idiomatic Greek: ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάνης, "name for him John." We may regard "name" as a nominative absolute, and the statement regarding the name as parenthetical.
The Baptist is often treated as an Old Testament prophet who was merely standing on the threshold of the New; but he really belongs altogether in the New Testament, as our evangelist's description shows, as well as that of the other Gospels, especially also Christ's words concerning him.
7) The commission received by John is now described. This one came for witness, that he might witness concerning the light, in order that all might believe through him. Just as in v. 2, οὗτος reaches back and grasps all that v. 6 has said about John. The aorist ἦλθεν, while it is historical and reports the past fact, summarizes John's entire career, which was "to come for witness." It may sound Hebraic to spread out first in a phrase and then again in a clause this purpose for which John came, yet the effect is that the double mention of witnessing becomes markedly emphatic. That this is the evangelist's purpose we see in v. 8, where this witness function is mentioned for the third time.
John uses μαρτυρία, μαρτύς, and μαρτυρεῖν in their native sense, "witness" that is competent, testimony at firsthand of what the person has seen or heard, known and experienced himself. "For witness," without a modifier, stresses this idea. John's office was to bear witness even as he himself describes it in language taken from Isaiah when he calls himself "a voice." That was his function, to speak out as a voice, to speak "for witness." We may construe the ἵνα clause in two ways, either as being dependent on the verb ἦλθεν and parallel to the phrase "for witness," merely repeating this in the longer form of a purpose clause; or as an appositional clause, dependent on the phrase, then it is subfinal, merely repeating the contents of the phrase. Perhaps the latter is the better. In either case the aorist verb is constative or complexive, uniting in one point all the witnessing that the Baptist did during his brief career. But now the object is added to the verb in the form of a phrase: the Baptist bore witness "concerning the light," namely that light which appeared in the Logos of which the evangelist has informed us in v. 4, 5. While the word "light" is the evangelist's own designation of the Logos, it, nevertheless, expresses exactly the contents of the Baptist's testimony. For we must not think that the Baptist knew nothing about the pre-existence of the Logos whom he saw in the person of Jesus. This is a rationalistic assumption, contradicted by the Baptist himself in v. 15 and v. 30. In connection with the latter passage the Baptist himself testifies how he was made sure on this point: it was by no natural means but by direct revelation from God who had sent the Baptist for the very purpose of testifying as he did. The Baptist even calls Jesus "the Son of God," v. 33, 34. Both aorists, ἦλθεν and μαρτυρήσῃ, state that the Baptist actually executed his great commission.
All witness is intended for faith, and so the Baptist testified "in order that all might believe through him." This comprehensive "all" includes all who went out in the wilderness and with their own ears heard the testimony. But it does not stop with these multitudes—"he being dead yet speaketh" (Heb. 11:4), and his testimony reaches out into the wide world. Just as no limitations restricted the Baptist's saving purpose when his living voice rang out in the wilderness of Palestine, so no limitations now narrow it. That all may believe is the good and gracious will of God which is universal in extent, excluding not a single sinner; it is also called his antecedent will to distinguish it from the subsequent will which becomes effective when men finally reject the gospel and is summarized in Christ's own words, "he that believeth not shall be damned."
The evangelist does not write, "in order that all might see the light or know the light," both of which would have been good. He at once employs the cardinal term "believe," trust with the full confidence of the heart. The synonymous term "receive" occurs in v. 12. "Believe" goes beyond the figure of "light" to the reality meant by this figure, which is truth, i. e., the divine truth embodied in Jesus, the Logos, shining forth in his person, words, and works. This believing, when closely analyzed, includes knowledge, assent, and the confidence of the heart. It is never a blind trust; hence it is never, like ignorance, the opposite of science and knowledge, as so many who have no experience of saving faith suppose. While saving faith is also implicit and reaches out in trust beyond what we actually know and can know, it always does this only from the vantage ground of explicit faith, the sure ground of what we do and can know. The aorist πιστεύσωσι is best regarded as ingressive, "in order that all might come to believe," with the thought, of course, that once having arrived at faith, this faith will continue, even as in regeneration the life once kindled lives on and on. In this production of faith the Baptist is to be the human instrument as the phrase "through him" shows. This, of course, is because of his "witness," the very nature of which is to awaken faith, even as all true testimony ought to be believed. Faith comes only through the preached Word, and God invariably honors the preachers who truly proclaim that Word. Those who leave the Word and cry, "Spirit, Spirit!" or who invent methods that discard the gospel can never hope to have it said of them that men came to faith "through them."
8) The evangelist seems to have a special interest in defining the Baptist's person, position, and work with great exactness. We feel this especially in v. 8, and again, even more strongly, in v. 19-28; 29-34; 3:26-36; and 5:33-36. We may hazard the guess that in the evangelist's time some still thought too highly of the Baptist. Yet we find not the slightest derogation on the evangelist's part. All that he reports concerning the Baptist agrees with his noble and humble character and with his exalted mission as the forerunner of Christ. He was not the light, but (came) that he might witness concerning the light. So great was "the light" so great must it be to be "the light" indeed for all our fallen race, that no ἄνθρωπος, or any sin-born creature like ourselves, not even John, the greatest of prophets, or that other John, the foremost of evangelists, could be "the light." All that these at most can do is to testify and "witness concerning the light," and they need a special enabling even for that. Augustine writes that they are like trees and mountains upon which the sun shines, which reflect the light and show by their own brightness and beauty that a great and wonderful light, vaster and mightier than they, is shining above them. In this sense Christ himself calls the Baptist "a burning and shining light," 5:35. The evangelist is careful to follow the negative statement concerning what John was not with the positive one concerning what he truly was, and he makes this a repetition of the clause used in 7, thus securing special emphasis.
9) After thus placing the great forerunner before us the evangelist again points to the Logos but now as incarnate and ushered in by this forerunner. The true light, which lighteth every man, was coming into the world. This marginal rendering of the R. V. is decidedly best. We are compelled to regard τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν as the subject of ἦν and not as the predicate. To supply the strong demonstrative "that" as the subject (A. V.) is quite unjustifiable. This, too, is certain that ἐρχόμενον does not modify πὰντα ἄνθρωπον, and that we dare not translate, "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (A. V.). The translation of the R. V. is rather unclear. It really makes little difference whether we regard ἦν... ἐρχόμενον as belonging together and forming a circumscribed imperfect (or a periphrastic future, erat venturum), or make the participle modify the subject τὸ φῶς. The grammars are reluctant to do the first; and it is true that John has no other example of a relative clause intervening between the two words of a circumscribed imperfect, he has only a few cases in which a few words intervene, 1:28; 3:23; 10:10 ἦν... βαπτίζων; 2:6 ἦσαν... καίμεναι Yet whichever grammatical construction is preferred, it seems quite evident that ἐρχόμενον completes the idea of ἦν. For John is not merely once more saying (v. 4) that the light was in existence in the indefinite past but that this light was in the act of coming into the world.
Here John directly identifies "the light" with the Logos and thus advances beyond v. 4, where he writes only that the life of the Logos was the light of men. "Logos" and "light" are, indeed, close equivalents, for both terms contain the idea of revelation made unto us and intended to be received by us. But here John appends the adjective τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν, and by using the second article he adds as much weight to the adjective as to the noun, R. 776. The adjective ἀληθινόν means real, genuine, the reality corresponding to the idea, verus, and is thus distinguished from ἀληθής, true, mind and word, word and deed agreeing with each other, verax.
The relative clause, "which lighteth every man," conveys more than an activity native to "the light"; it furnishes the evidence for this being "the genuine light." "Every man" only individualizes the comprehensive plural used in v. 4: the light "of men"; and on the other hand it corresponds with the final phrase: coming "into the world." This light is genuine because it is universal; every man, all men, the entire world of men, are wholly dependent on this one divine light. Hence also the verb φωτίζει is in the present tense, which corresponds with the tense of φαίνει in v. 5. As no restriction or limitation appears in the object "every man," so also none appears in the tense of this verb. When John writes, "which lighteth every man," he fears no misunderstanding on our part as though we might think that he means that every single human being is actually enlightened by the Logos, for both before and after making this statement he speaks of men rejecting this light and remaining in darkness. Luther has caught John's meaning, "There is only one light that lighteth all men, and no man comes into the world who can possibly be illumined by any other light." He also refers to Rom. 5:18: "'As through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation, even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men unto justification of life.' Although all men are not justified through Christ, he is, nevertheless, the only man through whom justification comes." Augustine uses the illustration of one teacher in a city, who, then, is said to instruct all the city, meaning not that everyone actually goes to him to be instructed but that none are taught except by him.
Hebrew originals have been cited for regarding "coming into the world" in the sense of "being born" and thus as equivalent to "an inhabitant of the world." But the New Testament never uses the expression in this sense. As far as men are concerned, they never were outside of the world and thus cannot come into the world by means of birth. As far as Christ is concerned, he was already born when the evangelist writes that he "was coming into the world." This "coming" is the standard term for Christ's mission in the world, for his appearance in his office as our Savior and Redeemer. The term ἐρχόμενος is almost technical in this sense. Israel constantly expected the Coming One; and in v. 11 John writes, "He came unto his own," he appeared as the promised Messiah, manifesting himself as such by his word and his work, by his suffering, death, and resurrection. In v. 9, when the Baptist testified of him, he was on the point of thus coming and making himself manifest. While he came unto his own, namely unto Israel, his coming was, nevertheless, as the Savior of the entire world. Thus also ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον means, "in the act of coming into the world." This, of course, involves the incarnation, yet John holds back the direct mention of this great act, saving it for emphatic mention in the final section of his prolog.
10) Verse 9 leaves us with the incarnate Logos about to enter upon his great mission when the Baptist testified of him. V. 10, 11 advance and speak of him as being fully manifest, with the tragic result that the world failed to recognize him, and that even his own refused to receive him. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.